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  • Writer's pictureGrahame Peace

The Beauty Room

Here is the first chapter from The Beauty Room, I hope you'll check it out on Amazon there are links below.

Chapter 1 2002 The Quintessential Glamour Magazine Beauty Awards.

Barbara Day was touching up her already immaculate luminous makeup; she had a splendid but dated glamour, with the look of a 1950’s film star; she was a strange combination of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Grace Kelly, and rather spookily a slim Barbara Cartland. But somehow it worked for her perfectly. Her dated glamour gave her a commanding presence and authoritative voice. She was slim with perfect skin, but she wasn’t a beautiful woman and had slightly hard features, however, she was striking and always looked the part, with her soft honey blond hair pulled off her face and secured with her trademark black velvet bow, placed securely on top of her head. Barbara was leaving nothing to chance with her appearance and wanted to look perfect and camera ready just in case the media or paparazzi needed her, or worse, caught her off guard. She was adding a final dab of expensive translucent powder when the doyen of the international beauty world Veruska Prochaska came swanning into the ladies’ powder room. Her long flowing hair which Barbara felt sure was a wig, was a very unnatural shade of red, and she was covered in faux tan, with makeup as thick as clotted cream. She was wearing a gold pleated lame evening gown a la Marilyn Monroe, an intensely cloying jasmine perfume, and what Barbara thought were the most vulgar diamonds she'd ever seen.

Barbara and Veruska went back a long way, back to the Britain of the swinging 1960’s when Barbara and her husband William became the leading UK agents for some niche French luxury beauty brands. Back in the day, Barbara hadn’t accepted Veruska’s product line “Prochaska Beauty” saying they weren't good enough because of their aggravating formulations, loaded with irritating perfume and harsh alcohol, but worse still they had cheap looking packaging, which would never do. So, despite Veruska’s allurements and best persuasive efforts with William, they didn’t cut the mustard with Barbara and never got past her. Over the years the two women had continued to cross swords and grown to hate each other. However, Veruska had massive success with her products, particularly in America where she now lived and had her beauty institute, making her a wealthy woman. Veruska took one look at Barbara and grinned slightly, while Barbara pretended she hadn’t seen her. But following two air kisses, Veruska said with her unusual thick Russian/American accent, 'Darling you're looking lovely this evening.’ She then paused and said smirking, ‘It must be the lighting.' Knowing a back-handed compliment when she heard one, Barbara smiled sweetly, 'Why, thank you Veruska, how very kind, and what a huge surprise it is to see you here at these beauty awards.' Barbara paused for a moment casually looking Veruska up and down, 'Have you put on weight since I last saw you dear?'

This observation immediately sent Veruska to the fulllength mirrors where she started surreptitiously checking herself from every angle smoothing her dress over her flat stomach and slim hips. Barbara continued, 'And didn't the couturier have sufficient material to cover up at least part of your cleavage dear or is it the weight gain? Ladylike decorum and image is everything in our business…. I remember quite vividly back in the sixties how you always wore the most vulgar low-cut tops and the shortest skirts.’ Veruska smiled sweetly looking coquettish while admiring herself in the mirror, 'Well Barbara dearest, you know I always say that more is more and less is a bore, if you've got it flaunt it, why try to hide one's beauty and assets under a bushel?' Barbara nodded, ‘Well no one could ever accuse you of that dear, but as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ Veruska started adjusting her wig, not that she would ever admit that it was a wig, ‘And how is your little business doing these days Barbara dear?’ Barbara brightened, ‘Never better, we struggle to cope with demand, and of course, I now have my product line which is doing very well, everyone loves it, particularly the top beauty editors.’ Veruska smiled, ‘Well let's hope no one buys you out again dear.’

Barbara shook her head confidently, ‘No, that won’t happen.’ She paused for a moment and said with an insincere expression, ‘And I never did get the chance to thank you for buying out those little niche brands I represented, you saved us a lot of time and trouble, but it did at least finally give you some reasonable products to sell.’ Veruska looked puzzled, ‘Sorry dear what do you mean?’ Barbara glowed, ‘Come now Veruska dear, you must have known that we were letting those brands go, they just hadn’t proven to be good enough for us. I was quite happy to let you have them, although they were much better than the rest of your product line at the time.’ For a second Veruska’s eyes remained steady and unblinking as a deep vertical line pulled between her brows. Barbara continued, ‘We were taking on several other brands that all did brilliantly well; some continue to do so. But I’ve always found it amusing that whatever brand I wanted or made a success of, you also wanted.’ Veruska face was expressionless, probably from all her plastic surgery, and she said nonchalantly, ‘How you flatter yourself Barbara dear, but all the ranges I took and assimilated into my brand did very well, isn’t that strange, you can’t have been marketing them very well.’ Barbara ignored her, ‘Of course, the brand you wanted and fought like mad to get with all your underhand dealings was our “Ethnic Rose” makeup range.’ Barbara opened her embroidered Dior evening bag and popped her powder compact in it while taking out her expensive delicate-pink lipstick in its elegant gold and silver case.

‘I’d worked for nearly two years with the company to bring out a full makeup range for ethnic skin tones. I wanted to give those women what the white caucasian market had back in the 1960’s. I’m so proud of that range.’ Barbara turned to the mirror and started touching up her lip line. ‘And it’s still a best seller today, but all you were interested in was making money, you’d no interest in the needs of those women.’ Veruska’s eyes narrowed, and she tried to frown, ‘I’m a businesswoman for goodness sake, of course, I wanted to make money, no one can do what I do, you choose to get ahead; everyone wants to be us. And anyway, who says that’s all I was interested in?’ Barbara turned, ‘Says me, dear, someone who knows you, but you never acquired that range, because I wouldn’t let you have it; you only ever managed to pick up what I didn’t want.’ Veruska shrugged and smirked, ‘You think so do you? Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. As I say, my whole line is a success story, everything has sold and continues to sell very well. Don’t forget; in the USA I’ve been voted businesswoman of the year several times.’ Barbara nodded, ‘Yes, you’ve done very well I’ll give you that Veruska, and I’m sure all your products sell well and are a big improvement on your original line. I mean you spend enough money on market research, advertising and all those free-gifts with purchase.’ Barbara put her lipstick back in her bag. ‘In fact, let's face it, you’ve built your whole business by stealing other people’s ideas, and either buying out or muscling your way into small cosmetic companies to become a global phenomenon.’

Veruska looked distracted adjusting the neckline on her dress pulling it wider apart, ‘Well business is business Barbara dear, it’s dog eat dog out there, and the way I look at it, I was helping those struggling little companies, I was rescuing them, which was something you couldn’t do.’ Barbara made every effort to look bored stifling a yawn, raising a perfectly plucked eyebrow while tapping her long manicured, perfectly varnished pink fingernails on the counter. She then ostentatiously took from her bag her new perfume "Baroque Noir" in its beautiful black and gold bottle. The fragrance was the latest offering from her beauty range, and Barbara made sure that Veruska saw it by spraying it theatrically in the air and onto her pulse points, she then adjusted the black velvet bow in her perfectly coiffured honey blond hair, while Veruska continued to tweak the neckline of her gown. 'You do like to flaunt yourself don't you dear, you always have. But why change the habit of a very (Barbara said the word with a triple underline) long lifetime. And I must say I quite liked that style of dress way back in the 1950’s when it was in fashion.' Veruska's face flushed and hardened as she scowled, her full glossy red mouth tightened while her heavily made-up eyes accentuated with long, thick, black false eyelashes almost widened, she was about to respond with her usual bitchy sarcasm, but Barbara was far too quick for her.

'Well, I must get back to my party and the beauty awards, unlike you dear, I've been nominated in several categories again this year, you really should try my wonderful “Spectaculaire ligne de la mâchoire crème.” It’s very firming and lifting, and you look like you need it, your makeup tape’s showing.' And with that Barbara dramatically, and triumphantly, swished out of the powder room in a fragrant cloud of “Baroque Noir”, pale pink chiffon, and the sort of jewels Elizabeth Taylor would have been proud to wear, smiling from ear to ear. She then carefully made her way back to one of the large round tables, waving and smiling to various acquaintances along the way, in the beautifully decorated, and fragrant Marchioness Ballroom, with its majestic splendour, sumptuous gold pillars with their fleur-de-lis design, mirrored walls, ornate ceiling, and sparkling chandeliers. She was at the award-winning five-star Grovener International Hotel in London for the prestigious "Quintessential Glamour Magazine Beauty Awards". Barbara was delighted with her nominations for the second year running in several categories for her luxury beauty range, ‘La Science des Elixers pour de la Jeunesse de Beauté’ (The Science of Elixers for the Youth of Beauty).

The room was full of celebrities from the world of film, television, theatre, media, and naturally the high-end fashion and beauty industry. Of course, all the top beauty journalists were there from the glossy fashion magazines, hoping to discover the next big thing or Holy Grail in the battle against a wrinkle or blemish, and the achievement of perfect, flawless skin. There was a hierarchy of table positions, but Barbara had made sure she took centre stage in the large ballroom. Her table was decorated with beautiful spring flowers that the flamboyant florist Andrew Palmer had created as only he could. Barbara and Andrew had worked together on a number of occasions, and he was sat at her table beside himself with joy. Andrew was obsessed with celebrities from ‘A’ list to ‘Z’ list. Unfortunately, he liked them all. There were ice buckets of Krug champagne and elegant fluted champagne glasses, which Barbara had ordered especially for the occasion. She’d also insisted that everyone sat at her table dressed to impress, which they dutifully did; on this occasion, she wanted to stand out, to be noticed. Barbara had put a lifetime of beauty expertise into her cosmetic range and had worked assiduously on her products for several years with the cosmetic scientists at Montage Scientifique in Paris, leaving no stone unturned in her alchemy. She'd even patented and incorporated a fantastic new botanical ingredient discovered in the Himalayas that she'd name “'Stimuldermanin”. Barbara said that this stimulated the precurses at the skins extra-cellular matrix, whatever that meant!

There were all sorts of glamorously packaged, seductively named cleansers, toners, masks, serums, oils, and creams in the range, with specific creams targeted to the body, hands, face, neck, décolleté, eye area, and the lips. Barbara had a cream, serum, or lotion for nearly every part of the body! Of course, she'd not stopped there; there were "Spa products", Sun, Hair Care, and Men’s ranges, along with vitamin and mineral supplements, and of course all her luxury French perfumes, which like all her products were always “reassuringly expensive”. Sat at her table were her husband William who was a retired pharmacist and her famous son the celebrity hairdresser Gary Day who was with his partner the award-winning architect Howard Peterson. Gary had a chain of salons and his range of luxury hair care products. Naturally, Barbara also had beauty rooms in many of them selling her luxury French beauty range of “Hope in a Tube.” Gary was a wealthy, young looking, fascinating character in his early forties. He had a rock star aura around him with a permanent golden tan, a slim muscular build, high cheekbones, firm square jaw-line, with shoulder-length blond hair, and perfect white teeth, the sort you can only get from very expensive cosmetic dentistry. His clients included famous models, film, and TV stars, and he often did hair for fashion editorials in prestigious magazines and major red-carpet events. Howard, on the other hand, was more of a smart but conservative figure in his expensive Saville Row suit, and handmade brogues.

Also, at the table was the glamorous Madison Adams looking stunning in a cream and black Chanel couture gown. She was American and had been a well-known face as a top model heading some international fashion and beauty campaigns. She now had her cosmetic and perfume empire and ran an exclusive upmarket vintage clothing store with her partner the glamorous Lori in San Francisco. Barbara had met Madison through the dynamic fashion duo Christopher Graham and Kate Mortimer, who were with her at the table, they designed exclusive fashion and bridal ranges and ran a small chain of dress shops and designer dress agencies all called “The Dressing Room”. Naturally, they’d designed and created Barbara’s flowing delicate pink chiffon gown, especially for the evening. Barbara had regularly worked with them both, using her beauty and makeup expertise for fashion shows and as part of their bridal team back in their home-town of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire; this was how she’d met Andrew Palmer. In fact, she, Gary, and Andrew had all become quite well known in the area following their involvement with two high profile televised haute couture auctions, which Chris and Kate had managed to organise. One involved the haute couture collection of the famous prima ballerina Maud Devices. Barbara helped Madison to get her perfume line “Madison Parfums Aromatiques” into top stores in the UK and as their friendship grew Madison introduced Barbara to the people at Montage Scientifique and the rest, as they say, was history.

Madison had named her luxury skin range, “La science d'ecolgie de Madison de la beauté.” She’d also developed a prestige anti-ageing range called, “Fondamentale de régénération”; one of the creams retailed at over £180 and contained a rare type of lotus flower extract. She’d met an ethnobotanist through her perfume nose, Alain Harbin in Grasse, which has its roots in plants and finding plants to help fight illness. So, Madison could see the apparent advantage of plant extracts in skin care because they all came from the healing power of mother nature. The idea for her range had not come from the laboratory, but from the ethnobotanists’ knowledge of indigenous people, and ancient cultures with their age-old understanding of the environment and the plants that surround them. Madison felt that the future of the luxury beauty industry was in mothernature, and several of her new anti-ageing formulas were recipes that had been kicking around undiscovered for many years. Ethnobotanists study the use of plants by indigenous cultures and Madison learned that these plants produced a dazzling array of beneficial molecules, certainly more than many modern chemical laboratories. So, with the people at “Montage Scientifique”, they’d taken a “fair-trade” approach working with small ethnic communities and sourced and grown the plants, creating a high-tech range of beauty products, all carefully packaged to protect the integrity of the active ingredients they contained.

The products had names that suggested nature like, “Crème écologique globale de réparation”, “Sérum péruvien de luminosité”, and “Crème secrète de régénération de peau d'Amazon.” Of course, everything was presented in beautiful boxes to appeal to the “reassuringly expensive brigade”. The premier range, “Fondamentale de régénération” came in seductive glistening gold containers, in beautiful gold and green boxes. Madison’s range like Barbara’s had nominations in several categories at the awards, and both had networked big time to get them included. But unlike Barbara and Veruska, Madison and Barbara worked in harmony and were never in competition with each other. It delighted Barbara that Veruska’s only nomination was in makeup for her, “Firming & Illuminating Cleavage Enhancer”, and of course Barbara had just witnessed first-hand Veruska brazenly demonstrating its uses, explaining her choice of dress, which left absolutely nothing to the imagination with its deep plunging neckline. Barbara believed the event organisers had only nominated Veruska out of fear, worried they would lose precious advertising revenue if they didn’t include her. These days she was such a big player in the global beauty industry, spending millions each year advertising her products in all the glossy fashion magazines.

The host for the awards was Talisa Penry the exotic looking daughter of an Earl and Editor in Chief of Quintessential Glamour Magazine or “Quint” as it was affectionately known. She looked very chic in her Ralph Lauren full-length purple duchess satin skirt and off the shoulder, black fitted top with its three-quarter length sleeves. Her beautiful jewellery complimented the gown and was on loan from Cartier. Gary Day had done her long, thick, glossy ebony hair in a sexy loose soft chignon, and Talisa had flown the top makeup artist Wendy Turton-Kenting over from Los Angeles to do her makeup for the event. Talk about no expense spared. There were 24 categories for the awards from skincare, makeup, perfumes, men's products, through to hair care. Barbara smiled to herself, here she was in her late-sixties and regarded at this event as a “newcomer”. Although, of course, she never discussed her age with anyone, that was a closely guarded secret like the ingredients in all her skin creams. Hers had been a long, but successful journey in the beauty business, an industry which she adored; for her, creating a product range was the icing on the cake and the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. In each category ten products had been shortlisted by beauty and fashion industry experts; to be shortlisted was an achievement and one that many companies used in their advertising campaigns, even if they didn’t win.

The awards were to be presented by celebrities from the acting, media, fashion, art, or beauty industry, which also helped to generate interest and publicity for the event, but more importantly the products and brands. The awards also raised money for some charitable women's causes. Sound engineers, photographers, and camera people started to take up their positions making final adjustments to the audio system and lighting while Talisa took to the stage with an army of glamorous assistants to get the evening underway. Gary turned to Barbara, ‘Well mother good luck, do you think you stand a chance this year?’ Barbara shrugged, ‘Who knows I’m just pleased to be here, and I know my products are up there with the best of them. But as you know mine’s a niche brand, and luckily they’re very much in vogue at the moment, the top stores like them, it makes them seem more exclusive, and gives them more prestige.’ She smiled knowingly. ‘Niche brands are what your father and I have specialised in for all these years, and although we’ve always been in the background, we’ve done very well out of them.’ Gary nodded, ‘Well as you say it’s niche now, but you could be global one day, the publicity from these awards could certainly help.’ Barbara shook her head, ‘Oh, I think I’m a bit too old to become a global brand at my age, and anyway if that bitch Veruska Prochaska’s been busy canvassing the panel, I probably won’t stand a chance. But I’m just happy to be here son, we will see.’

Gary wrinkled his nose, ‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about poor old Veruska, I know she looks the part of the great doyenne of the beauty world, but you know as well as I do it’s all cosmetic surgery.’ He smiled and waved to someone on another table. ‘She’s been lifted from top to bottom several times over; I don’t think there’s anything left of her that’s real. I wonder what they do with all the bits that are left over?’ Barbara laughed, ‘Probably bury them in tons of concrete.’ Gary laughed, Barbara continued, ‘But haven’t this lot all had some surgery or intervention, whatever happened to a bit of discipline and growing old gracefully? The only thing that’s fake about me is my hair-colour and eyelashes.’ She paused in thought, ‘To me, it’s all about looking good for your age not necessarily younger.’ Gary looked around the room, ‘Well your lucky mother, you have good genes and all those years of staying out of the sun, careful diet, and exercise, and of course, all those creams have certainly paid off.’ Barbara raised her eyebrows and nodded; although in truth she ate next to nothing. But she was enjoying the event while also trying to calm her nerves, which wasn’t like her at all because she wasn’t usually the nervous type. She took her glass and sipped on her champagne, wondering to herself what Madame Jacqueline Deveze would have made of it all.

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